Thursday March 4th, 2010

Drift by Victoria Patterson

victoria-pattersonReviewed by Adam Gallari

Her debut collection, Drift, earned Victoria Patterson a place as a finalist for this year’s Story Prize (won by Daniyal Mueenuddin). The book is a series of tales set against the posh seaside backdrop of Newport Beach, California. Patterson’s ostensible goal is to pull back the façade of the “SoCal” readers think they know and draw attention to what really lurks beneath the veneer.

Drift’s characters are never secure, always prone to be dismissed for newer, shinier, chicer versions of themselves. And though Patterson occasionally offers a male voice— the most interesting being John Wayne, a burnt-out skateboarder rendered nearly mute by a drug overdose— she seems primarily concerned with what constitutes female friendship in this affluent hamlet. These women are confused and tragic figures, aware of their sexual powers and their capabilities, yet simultaneously powerless, beholden to husbands and lovers capable of abandoning them at any time. Patterson too often relies on the trope of the checkered past or the desire to be loved as the rationale behind the excessive and self-destructive promiscuity of some of her characters. But she also effectively shows the fate of women trapped, even in a post-feminist world, as symbols, continually refashioned by plastic surgeons to keep their aging bodies competitive with those of the daughters they and their friends have produced.

The perspectives in Drift are constantly shifting. Rosie, a troubled but engaging young woman caught between a born-again Christian father and a gold-digging mother, emerges as the book’s central protagonist, nearly every story returning to her in some way. The structure of the book is less a series of independent narratives than related puzzle pieces that form what the modern story collection often does, a loosely contained novel.

Patterson’s prose can be clean and appealingly straightforward, and she’s at her best within the troubled minds of a character, channeling a distraught consciousness trying to make sense of the world. But there are too many moments in which her writing veers toward the confessional and the melodramatic. Still, though it’s uneven, Drift is an ambitious first effort and marks Patterson as a writer to watch.

Drift by Victoria Patterson
Mariner Books, 240 pp., $12.95